When considering replacement of their HVAC equipment, our customers often ask “what is the difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner?” While the equipment is similar, there are a couple fundamental differences between the two. This post is meant to provide you with the basics to help guide you in the right direction for choosing the best option for your business or home.

First, let’s discuss the similarities between a heat pump and an air conditioner. Both systems typically consist of two (2) pieces of equipment: an indoor unit called the air handler, and an outdoor unit, referred to as either a heat pump, or an air conditioner (depending on which you have). Both of these systems use a refrigeration cycle which absorbs and releases heat as it travels to and from the indoor and outdoor units. This is the cycle that modern air conditioning is based on.

The difference between these two systems is that the heat pump can reverse this refrigeration cycle to provide heating instead of cooling. Ultimately, the system uses a reversing valve to cause the outdoor and indoor unit to switch roles, resulting in warm air being supplied into your home or business. The heat pump also has a defrost cycle which kicks the unit back into “cooling” mode to prevent your condenser from freezing over in lower temperatures.

While the heat pump’s ability to provide heating is a big benefit, it should be noted that a heat pump’s efficient method of “moving” heat is not always sufficient when dealing with the extreme temperatures that we face in the northeast. When temperatures fall below 35 degrees, an electric resistance heater may turn on as a backup to supplement the heat from the outside. Since using this electric heat will increase your utility bills, some customers also utilize gas or oil heating systems as a backup as well. This “Dual Fuel” approach is a great way to ensure that you will always have enough heat, and that your system will be providing that heat in the most efficient was possible.

If you’re considering purchasing a heat pump or air conditioner, we would be happy to further discuss the differences with you. Please call us at 781-365-0222, or email info@controlairsystems.com for more info!